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All Together Now picnic
Photograph: Joseph Gruenthal

The 19 best markets and restaurants to level up your Chicago picnic

Get the best boards, beers, sandwiches and more at these local spots.

Written by
Lindsay Eanet
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The precious, sweet season known as summer in Chicago is nearly upon us, and with it, we'll all be looking for ways to spend as much time outside as possible. When you've had your fill of sipping cocktails at hidden patios and rooftop bars or need something more chill after an exciting summer street festival, why not take a blanket and some snacks and have a picnic in one of Chicago's best parks? Whether you're going for an elaborate cheese and charcuterie board to go with your summer movie or concert or looking for some takeaway gourmet sandwiches to complement a relaxing afternoon with friends, these markets and restaurants will help you level up your park picnic and make it a summer highlight. 

RECOMMENDED: The best picnic spots in Chicago

The best markets and restaurants for a Chicago picnic

A serene river-side picnic at Ping Tom Memorial Park with skyline views? Great. A serene river-side picnic at Ping Tom with a feast you picked up from 88 Marketplace? Excellent. Grab savory bao, scallion pancakes and crispy beef pie from Dong Bei Ren Jia/A Place in Northeast, addictive, crackly-topped pineapple buns and egg tarts from Chiu Quon Bakery; then, head downstairs for a smoothie or tea from Pure Tea to wash everything down.

Closest park: Ping Tom Memorial Park (18-minute walk, 6-minute bike, 4-minute drive)

This Ukrainian Village spot has a great name for inspiring a gathering, with a selection of snacks and natural wine to match. Their portable “Boards for Compact Gatherings” feed 2-6 and come with three cheeses, two meats, cornichons, preserves, raw honey and a reusable board, or opt for the “Adult Lunchables” pack if you’re going solo. Round out your picnic with enticing sandwiches like the smashed white bean and deli-classic French Exit with salami and Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese and a selection of beverages, most notably their natural wines. Don’t forget their out-of-this-world cookies, like their riff on your childhood fave, the Malted Chocolate Oreo.

Closest park: Smith Park (13-minute walk, 8-minute bus ride, 4-minute bike ride, 3-minute drive)

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Wicker Park’s specialty cheese shop is a choose-your-own-adventure fantasy for cheese enthusiasts. You can opt for one of the shop’s curated boards (including options to try a little bit of every cheese or every meat on offer) or loaded snack trays for a group, including the “game time” board featuring pretzels and dips. Or you can build your own cheese and charcuterie board from the shop’s selection, with each cheese paired expertly with its own marmalade, jam, pickle or other tasty companion. 

Closest park: Haas Park (8-minute walk, 5-minute bike, 4-minute drive)

Picture it: you’ve spread a blanket under a shady tree overlooking the gently lapping lake at Calumet Park. On the blanket? A magnificent spread of tender smoked shrimp, satisfyingly crispy fried shrimp, smoked salmon, fries, coleslaw, potato salad, pickles, and of course, some cold pops. The sky is deep blue, the music from other parties’ speakers drifts past you but doesn’t drown out your conversation and you’re thinking about a dip to cool off after you’ve digested. Tell us that’s not heaven. 

Closest park: Calumet Park (21-minute walk, 6-minute bike, 4-minute drive)

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The culinary outpost of Little Black Pearl is truly a gem–lush, inviting and stocked with shelves to peruse. Don’t miss the park-ready sandwiches, like the chicken salad panini, the breakfast sandwiches served on house-made biscuits or the colorful roasted veggie wrap—or the gourmet brownies. The bright, fresh juices and smoothies are the perfect complement, especially on a hot summer day. 

Closest park:
Gwendolyn Brooks Park (4-minute walk)

If you’re going to lounge in Humboldt Park, you’re spoiled for nearby picnic options, including Diana’s, a family-owned spot which has been serving Puerto Rican comfort food “since the Bulls were winning championships” (their words). More portable options include massive pressed sandwiches and steak and chicken pastelitos, but you could also opt for the build-your-own “humBOWLdt,” with toppings like honey butter pork shoulder, pernil, spicy boss sauce and “Julius Peppers and Onions.” 

Closest park: Humboldt Park (3-minute walk)

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The advantage of Dom’s is pure breadth of selection—the sprawling Lincoln Park restaurant/café/bar/grocery concept offers a host of options for a group with varying tastes. Choose from grab-and-go salads from Plant Butcher, sushi and bowls from Gohan, Roman-style Bonci pizza from The Hearth or hearty sandwiches from The Stackup. And that’s just the stalls—the market also has an extensive grab-and-go section with salads, sides and wraps. 

Closest park: Lincoln Park (11-minute walk, 5-minute bike, 4 minutes on public transit)

The key to this Bronzeville spot—which specializes in crisp Belgian frites brimming with decadent toppings—is strategy. If you don’t come in with a plan, you can easily get overwhelmed by the ambitious combinations like jerk Caribbean shrimp with pineapple salsa, Italian beef with a giardiniera cheese sauce, and, if you’re really feeling fancy, lobster. Gather a group and get a few to snack on while sitting by the peaceful Washington Park lagoon, and maybe get an order of plain frites so you can sample all the sauces (even if you say it’s “for the table” but really just for you). 

Closest park: Washington Park (3-minute walk)

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Gene's Sausage Shop

You’ll know you’ve reached Lincoln Square’s iconic European market and deli when you see the giant cow towering above its red awning. Inside is a picnic lover’s dream, with counters practically overflowing with breads and specialty meats and a helpful team that can guide you when the choices get overwhelming. Don’t forget dessert, with 30 different pastries and cakes to choose from in the pastry case, or ascend upstairs to browe an impressive selection of local and imported beer. Take your wares to Welles Park to watch the world go by—that is, if the rooftop at Gene’s doesn’t tempt you to stay first. 

Closest park: Welles Park (8-minute walk, 2-minute bike or drive)

Whether you’re spreading a blanket on one of Chicago’s best green spaces or heading to the man-made beach by the boathouse, stop by this unpretentious sandwich bar to stock up on everything you need for a filling and portable picnic, from subs and toasted sammies to classic sides like potato salad, pasta salad and chips, along with beer, wine, soda and Haus-made cocktails to go. Oh, and they have Bang Bang and Spinning J pie, too. 

Closest park: Humboldt Park (across the street)

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Sometimes, you just have to go with the classics. Debbie Sharpe’s market has been a neighborhood institution since 2005, and remains a go-to for picnics, parties and catering. In addition to picnic-ready snacks, beverages and craveable chip accoutrements like the feisty feta dip, you can choose from more than a dozen portable sandwiches like the hearty vegetarian Wicker Park and the Smokin’ Brisket, adorned with crispy onions and tangy BBQ sauce. Don’t forget to grab a couple slices of their iconic cake for dessert. 

Closest park: Wicker Park (5-minute walk)

Get everything you need for a leisurely afternoon lounging in Welles Park, being snack hero for your local youth baseball team or a spread to accompany the park’s summer concerts at this inviting corner grocer. In addition to beer, wine, a dreamy cheese counter and a host of savory and sweet snacks, choose from a rotating selection of fresh grab-and-go salads and hearty sandwiches showcasing house-made meats like porchetta and roast beef. You can even customize your sandwiches if you want to try a little bit of everything. Go ahead.

Closest park: Welles Park (across the street)

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A taco picnic is always a good idea, especially with a spread from this beloved Mexico City-style grocery and taquería. Try the perfectly-seasoned longaniza or the house favorite, the crispy tripe that can convert even the hardest offal skeptics. To complement your meal, try one of their refreshing aguas frescas in 10 different flavors, or the tepache, a sweet, slightly carbonated fermented pineapple drink you can order by the gallon. 

Closest park: La Villita Park (11-minute walk, 3-minute bike or drive)

Come on, it’s literally in the name. This lovely Rogers Park outpost offers a selection of bottles, cheese, charcuterie, bread, sweets and fun, summery takeaways like Phlour quiche and empanadas from Luciana’s Kitchen. If you like a little wine with your park or lake gathering, consider joining their wine club, which comes with perks like discounts, free weekly wine tastings and more.

Closest park: Loyola Park (4-minute walk) 

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There’s little else to be said in praise of Publican Quality Meats, but if you still haven’t been to this West Loop Disneyland for artisanal meat lovers, a quick recap: it’s an ideal spot for classic picnic staples, including half a dozen sandwiches all served on James Beard Award-winning Publican Quality Bread. If you’re going the classic snack board route, have the team at PQM do the work for you—their curated charcuterie boards for pre-order can serve 2-9 people and include house-cured salumi, pates and rillettes, cheeses, seasonal accoutrements and, of course, that amazing bread.

Closest park: Fulton River Park (7-minute walk) 

Like we said, Humboldt Park’s got a lot of options, but a thought—consider Spinning J for an early morning picnic and enjoy a spread with savory breakfast sandwiches, quiches, and a variety of pastries baked fresh daily, most notably the sourdough cinnamon rolls. Late risers won’t be disappointed with the lunch options, including a tempting roster of sandwiches and old-school soda fountain drinks. Their house pies, like the decadent s’more and the funky lemon-lavender “tie-dye pie,” are good at any time of the day. 

Closest park: Humboldt Park (5-minute walk)

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The newest location of this nearly 30-year local staple wins on two key picnic factors—portability and bang for your buck. The sandwiches like the mouthwatering shawarma, falafel or feta and veggies on baked za’atar bread are affordable, tasty and convenient at less than $10 each, and at $6.99/lb, the salad bar isn’t a bad deal either.

Closest park: Palmer Square Park (8-minute walk, 4-minute bike, 2-minute drive)

Since this Edgewater grocery opened in 2019, it’s earned legions of fans with its selection of Thai ingredients and snacks, but the real winner for your lakefront picnic is going to be the hot bar, featuring a delicious meal for a bargain—two items with jasmine rice for under eight bucks (don’t miss the papaya salad). Pick up some snacks in the grocery to round out the spread, including a selection of Lay’s potato chips in local flavors like Sweet Basil, Grilled Prawn and Seafood Sauce and Truffle. 

Closest park: Technically Bromann Park around the corner, but Talard is also a 12-minute walk and 7-minute bike ride or drive to Foster Beach for a perfect lakefront picnic.

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There are a couple of ways you could go with these lauded purveyors of artisanal salumi. You can pre-order a chef’s selection of meats, cheeses and accoutrements for pickup, or stop in and choose your own adventure, including complements like Aya Pastry bread and marinated olives. If you need something more substantial than a grazing board for your park hang, try one of their sandwiches, like the fresh Beet Street, or the signature Dante, a flavor bomb featuring five different glorious meats (six if you count the ‘nduja aioli). 

Closest park: Eckhart Park (8-minute walk, 2-minute bike or drive)

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